Kehinde Wiley & Ta-Nehisi Coates

In this Black History Month of 2017, I wonder if anyone has thought about inviting artist Kehinde Wiley and journalist/author Ta-Nehisi Coates to appear together on the same stage. I think this would be an exciting and provocative conversation between literature and art.

In Between the World and Me, Coates is writing to his son. He wants to prepare him for navigating through this world as a Black man. There are some practical things his son needs to know. What struck me as a reader was the corporeal reality of the African American experience that he describes.

He writes, “Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.”

Again and again, he reminds us that Black bodies are being defiled, plundered, controlled, taken, broken, shattered. The violence is historic and continues today. He believes that “The larger culture’s erasure of black beauty was intimately connected to the destruction of black bodies.” As a father, he understands that his son is his own individual, but he wants his son to understand the history and context of the ongoing devastation appearing in the news: Black lives being destroyed by our police forces, being incarcerated in high percentages, being demoralized, disempowered, and experiencing little justice.

Coates wants to educate his son about the reality of being Black. The dangers. The assumptions. The judgments. The “justifications” for violence. The anguish of this father should give pause to all thoughtful Americans.

Coates’s feelings and observations are valid. American history confirms his thoughts and feelings about the racism in our country. At the same time, Kehinde Wiley is changing the narrative of Black American lives with his paintings by bringing attention to the bodies of Black people, by reclaiming them in works of art, in elegance and beauty.

Wiley says, “The history of painting by and large has pictured very few black and brown people, and in particular very few black men. My interest is in countering that absence.”

I saw his work for the first time in a stunning exhibit “A New Republic” at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) about a year ago. Wiley is a Black American living and working in Brooklyn and Beijing. His use of large canvases displays the remarkable faces and bodies of African Americans—people whom the artist has often pulled off the streets of America. These people are not only immortalized in his paintings, they perhaps are given the chance to see themselves differently, important and larger than life. Empowered instead of disempowered.

When I saw these paintings, I recognized some of the postures and accoutrement as the same ones featured in other portraits of European nobility, warriors, other men of power living in earlier centuries. Many of his paintings are huge, impressive. The viewer cannot help being impressed by a painting that fills a wall; artists in earlier centuries and their subjects understood that sheer size does convey messages of wealth and power. However, instead of White Europeans, Wiley depicts contemporary Black men of varying ages and hues striking these poses of power often against a background of elegant wallpaper or vibrant flora.

Wiley is committing an act of revolution to subvert how people might see Black Americans and what they hear about crimes involving Black Americans. It’s an act of empowerment. Unexpected and unforgettable.

While culture and politics have appropriated Black bodies to the needs of the dominant White culture, Wiley has appropriated portraiture elements of Western art to make a statement about Black lives. He is reclaiming and reminding us of the beauty of the bodies and faces that some would judge and condemn.

Wiley’s art is a quiet revolution. It won’t change the hearts and minds of racists. It won’t stop the violence against Blacks. But it reminds people that Black people are diverse. They are strong. They have dignity and grace. The SAM brochure describes Wiley’s work: “Elevating people of color, giving them a sense of presence and visibility in countries or cultures where they were long absent from representations of power, is at the heart of this endeavor.”

Coates and Wiley are two Black American men expressing themselves eloquently. Their messages are similar, yet different. One uses the power of words, while the other, the power of visual art. We need both to completely understand the Black American experience.

Black History Month is really for all Americans. It is an opportunity to be informed and hopefully recognize that all of our histories are connected in One America.

Lonny Kaneko Reminds Us to Say “No” to Racism

I’m sorry I missed this reading. Saying NO to racism is so important. We must remember our shameful past: how fear disenfranchised and imprisoned innocent Americans.

Donna Miscolta

Last December, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump said he didn’t not know whether he would have supported or opposed the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. When pressed, he said he hated the concept of internment camps. Yet his flimsily veiled as well as his openly racist rhetoric encourage an atmosphere of hate and intolerance that can have no good outcome.

Which is why Lonny Kaneko’s recently released poetry collection Coming Home from Camp and Other Poems is so necessary. The camp in the title refers not to childhood summer camp or some other recreational foray in the wilderness. It was a foray into a different kind of wilderness?one in which American ideals were lost to racism, when the American government rounded up more than 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry in this country and incarcerated them behind barbed wire in the euphemistically-termed “war relocation centers.” Lonny Kaneko and his…

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Literary Podcasts!

Thanks to the Jack Straw Writers Program, I have 2 podcasts to share. One features my first reading as a Jack Straw Writer in May 2014. It includes a few excerpts from my memoir preceded by a brief interview with curator extraordinaire Felicia Gonzalez.


Reading at the Seattle Public LIbrary, Central Branch

This podcast features all of the writers in the 2014 Jack Straw Writers Program. Each reading is approximately 5 minutes long. My piece starts at 19:50, but I encourage you to listen to all the readings of these terrific writers!

Many thanks to Chris Higashi, Program Manager at the Washington Center for the Book, for coordinating this event.


Happy listening!

Writing: From Whispers to Words on the Page

I was trying to explain the writing process to a non-writer friend. It’s not an easy process to describe, but I can tell you a little about what happens in my writing groups.

My writing groups are critical to my process. These are working groups and we bring our works-in-progress. One is a virtual group that meets via Skype because we are in Seattle, Atlanta, and Santa Barbara, and the other is comprised of all Seattle writers so we meet in each other’s homes.

I mostly submit a piece for review that I’ve revised a few times at least, and I feel pretty good about it. In the review process, someone might say, “Perhaps a transition is needed here.” Or “The shift between these two sections is too abrupt.” “What happened here?” When I look more closely, I realize that a piece of information is missing; it’s not on the page. It got stuck in transmission.

I knew what I wanted to describe. After all, I’m writing about my life. I know the material. However, transmitting my thoughts, feelings, memories to the page is not a perfect process. Sometimes I think I’ve written something that’s not there. In reading it I can make the leap because I know what happened. But no one else does because it’s stuck in the ethers and is not on the page.

How does any artist transform the whisper of an idea or concept into something tangible, accessible to others? This is a huge challenge. A writer’s medium is words on the page. White space can also be an element. That is, what’s not on the page can be an element of style. Sometimes the writer wants the reader to connect the dots, to let her imagination fill in the blankness; it’s a pause to allow the reader to engage.

However, this was not the issue here. What I’ve learned from my writing group is that I have to be more conscientious to provide a clear narrative, to pay attention to the details in providing the connective tissue. To keep asking myself: Is this accurate to what I mean to say? Is this a clear version of what’s in my head? Is this scene or character credible? How can I improve it, make it stronger?

Back to the drawing board (or computer or desk): I had to try harder to transmit my thoughts effectively onto the page. The reader is not telepathic. She doesn’t know what I’m trying to say, what I intend to say. She only has what’s in front of her. If it’s confusing or incoherent, it doesn’t work and the reader will lose interest. And if I want the reader to take a leap from one thing to the next, have I provided enough “guidance” in the text to ensure she can land safely?

As a writer, I want to engage the reader. I want the reader to stay with the piece. It’s like having an old-fashion radio where you have to keep turning a dial until you get a clear transmission. The writer needs to works to get rid of the crackles and static. Therein lies the work. Revising and fine-tuning until clarity arrives on the page. Until the reader can follow the story that the writer intends.

This is only one of the many challenges of writing. Thanks to my writing group, I keep going.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

These words came to me out of the ethers one summer day as I pondered how to create some income to have the lifestyle I want. I’ve proven I can live frugally, but I’d like more freedom, that is, extra cash, to spend on both my needs and my wants. Nothing extravagant, just more joie de vivre, you know?

I’m a writer, but so far no one is clamoring to give me money to write and revise my personal essays and stories. And, ironically, now that I have a finished manuscript, the hard facts of a writing life are staring me coldly in the face.

Fact #1: I have no idea when my memoir will be published.

Fact #1: I don’t know if I will make any money when it does.

Publishing is a very inexact process with absolutely no guarantees.

So, now that I’ve indulged my creative side for a number of years, it’s time to be practical and figure out how to create some income.

Fortunately I have a lot of good skills after years in office work and management. So temp admin work seemed an obvious solution. Or a part-time job. But inside I cringed. The office politics, the loss of control over my time and schedule, commuting, choosing a salary over my self-respect, horrible and manipulative bosses–all these memories assaulted me.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

These words remind me that I have choice. Fortunately, I’m not desperate or destitute. I’d just like to work at something that I enjoy, that makes me happy.

This past June, I actually worked a part-time job that was supposed to be fun. I lasted all of five weeks. I was a check-in agent on my feet for five to six hours, smiling and talking to passengers. The company really did not want us to take breaks. Most employees didn’t even though labor laws require employers to ensure that employees get breaks. After working the first day with no break, I knew I had to take a break on my shift. I had to sit down for a few minutes and eat something so I could continue to function. It’s amazing how the brain can turn to sludge in a few hours without food and water.

That’s right, no water bottles at our stations because of all the computer equipment and cables. Equipment for which we had no training. The first day was sink or swim.

Even though most of us were mature adults, we obviously could not be trusted to keep our bottle tops secured to prevent spilling.

It was very stressful and all for minimum wage. My co-workers were lovely, the company policies were not. There’s more I could tell you, but you get the picture. I was not happy. This was not fun.

I generally hate to quit. I’ve never worked in a factory or sweatshop, but this employer’s willingness to work us until we dropped and their lack of respect for their employees made me think: Sweatshop. Dehumanizing.

And so, I quit.

Working for other people can be a crapshoot. Yes, yes, I know life in general is a crapshoot. Still, in some things I still have choice. Yes, indeed, I HAVE CHOICE!

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

I’ve found my new mantra. Or maybe it’s found me.


Now that I have completed my memoir manuscript, I feel like a bonafide writer. It’s a  major milestone, but certainly only one of many steps toward publication.

Regardless, I am declaring myself as a WRITER and putting up this here Web site to announce it to the world.

HELLO, WORLD! Consider yourself notified!